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Increase Your Home's Value

Heed these 8 suggestions from real estate pros to ensure your property fetches the highest possible price.

I’m no real estate investor, but I’ve bought and sold two houses in my time (one on my own and one with an agent), and what I can tell you from those experiences is that little things mean a lot when it comes to selling your home and getting a great price for it.

But if everything counts and you have only so much time and money to invest, how do you know where to start to get your home for-sale ready and to fetch the best price?

The good folks at Consumer Reports National Research Center set out to answer just that, with an online survey of 303 real estate professionals from around the country.

As we head into the hottest selling months and with 5.3 million homes expected to change hands this year, we thought it might be nice to get our own answers to help you leverage all you can against the competition.

1. Stage and declutter your home

One of the panel members Consumer Reports consulted was the former executive producer for This Old House, Massachusetts real estate agent and renovation consultant Bruce Irving.

(He knows his stuff: the guy has been interviewed by Oprah protégé Nate Berkus, and The New York Times called him “the house whisperer.”)

“Do all the work necessary to make your property look good, not through expensive changes but through excellent staging,” says Irving. “Your agent should be able to provide proper advice and even bring in a professional.”

That means clearing out clutter.

“I have a gal who I send into listings to declutter and depersonalize for sellers and just tidy things up using the sellers’ own possessions for the most part,” says Karen Wallace, an agent with Lyon Real Estate, located in Auburn, CA.

Tara Miller of Tarabell’s Designs in Portland, OR, is just such a gal. She helps homeowners and agents stage their houses for maximum sales appeal.

Miller points out that people who don’t keep up on needed repairs end up spending the most when it comes time to readying a home for sale.

“It’s remarkable what regular home maintenance, cleanliness, and minimizing clutter in your everyday life can do for you when it comes time to sell.”

She also notes that staging a home is very different from designing or decorating. “It’s a tough thought, but not everyone likes your pets, hobbies, sports teams, or religion.”

2. Clean it up!

“If it’s dirty, it will not sell — even if it’s a great place,” says Kathy Partak, a real estate agent with Select Estate Properties in Auburn, CA.

In fact, surprisingly, most of the agents we spoke with focused on overall cleanliness and space in the home as the biggest factor in selling your home.

And cleanliness pays off, according to Consumer Reports: cleaning and decluttering can deliver a 3% to 5% return on investment, and this is something you can do yourself.

When showing your home, Irving adds, “Raise window blinds, lower toilet seats — make sure the place looks at least as good as it would if you were having your boss over for dinner.”

3. Enhance your curb appeal

First impressions sell your home. As soon as a potential buyer drives up to your house, she’s making judgments — and a yard in disarray or untrimmed bushes could cost you.

“Exterior space is ‘free’ extra square footage and is so appealing to buyers,” says Wallace. “It pays to enhance it.”

But if your staging budget doesn’t include the outdoors, Partak suggests making the most of the walk from the car to the entry.

“Make it look nice from the curb with some easy potted or planted flowers to trim the walkway.”

4. Pay attention to details

The details that you may believe are minor can turn out to pack a wallop for your home’s sale. For Irving that includes everything from paint touch-ups throughout the house to a full redo of public rooms.

“Wash your windows, replace compact fluorescent bulbs with incandescent or halogen, and remove or minimize personal photographs,” he says.

If you have a little money to invest, Partak suggests upgrading to energy-efficient windows, appliances in the kitchen, and adding solar. “These are always the things that bring in more money.”

5. Refresh your kitchen and bath

Don’t forget the most important rooms in your home: the kitchen and bathroom. Consumer Reports estimates that you can increase your home’s value by as much as 7% by renovating these rooms.

If you don’t have renovations in your budget, Kristen Kohnstamm, principal broker and co-owner of Dunthorpe Properties, a luxury real estate firm in Portland, OR, recommends fresh paint, a low-hanging opportunity to freshen up your space and potentially lift your asking price.

Choose a neutral palette to increase the appeal to as many tastes as possible; buyers need to be able to easily visualize themselves living in the home. But don’t invest too much time or personality in things like paint and new carpeting.

“The worst thing you can do is put lots of money into things like carpet, paint, and other aesthetics that a new homeowner will likely want to change,” says Kohnstamm.

6. Invest in good photos

When it comes to the listing, make sure your real estate agent offers great photos that show your home in its best light. First impressions can make all the difference to someone sitting at home on the computer.

And when it comes to open houses and showings, Irving suggests you “absent yourself” because sellers can sometimes get in the way of a sale by taking things too personally.

7. Don’t DIY everything

Irving’s top tip includes a good finger wagging at people like me, who think they can DIY a home sale and still come out ahead.

“First and foremost, for correct pricing, widest and best marketing, and the highest price, hire a real estate agent,” says Irving.

8. Try not to take it personally

While this tip won’t necessarily increase your home’s value, it will certainly speed up the sale.

Kohnstamm cautions first-time sellers to temper their emotions when it comes to the sale of their home.

“Whatever comments are [made] about your home, they’re never intended as a personal affront. Remember, everyone has different tastes, but clean and well maintained never goes out of style.”


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